Ham and Eggs

Mostly I have been inspired by Mr. McDowell’s birthday (the 12th) and the combined forces of Carnival and the New Orleans Saints (Crescent City longing). A couple punky things snuck in as punky things are wont to do. I put together a YouTube playlist for this installment (sans the punks, for focus’ sake, but I linked those albums below)–I’m still trying to get ahold of rhyme and/or reason!

Fred McDowell: You Gotta Move

If you like slide like I like slide, Fred must be in your top pantheon. This first outing he made for Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie (recorded in ’64-’65) is my favorite–but just by a hair. What the adjective “stinging” was designed for.

Blind Willie McTell: Atlanta 12-String

Nobody did play the blues like McTell, partly because he’s not always playing blues–he’s a swinging songster just as much. I love his singing, too, and this later record communicates some serious wit, accumulated through three itinerant decades.

Jessie Mae Hemphill: Feelin’ Good

The Ramones of the North Mississippi Hill Country Blues, the She-Wolf of Como, Jessie Mae needs to be better known. Besides knocking out some deep late-night trance blues, she socks a Christmas song over the fence and rocks a great church tune with just her tambo. Get hip if you ain’t already, folks.

A Collection of Pop Classics by Reagan Youth

They weren’t ever pushed on me by my hardcore friends in their heyday, but two of their songs leapt off the Mom & Dad soundtrack as we watched it Friday night, and I required more the next morning. See also last post’s blurt on Superchunk.

Betty Harris: The Lost Queen of New Orleans Soul

Possessed of a smoky, sultry, and vulnerable voice, Miss Harris linked up with Allen Toussaint and the fledgling Meters for a handful of tracks in the mid-Sixties. That combo should conjure sone desire in your ears.

Paul Barbarin’s Jazz Band / Punch Miller’s Bunch & George Lewis: Jazz at Preservation Hall

Old-time New Orleans jazz, executed by masters, is difficult to beat for sheer high spirits, and the collective improvisation (an influence on Ornette Coleman) can fly under your radar. Atlantic cut three (or four?) of these records in the mid-Sixties in higher-fidelity than the music had ever enjoyed–unless you happened to hear it in person.

Danny Barker: Save the Bones

The New Orleans musical griot, singing pop and blues standards as well as his own songs with exuberance and knowing, making his guitar testify, and spinning tales in between. 79 at the time of the record’s release, he sounds about half that.

IDLES: Joy as an Act of Resistance

This item would have made my “Best of 2018” list had I heard it in time. A yobby, aggressive punk rock crew from Bristol that takes on Trump and Brexit while also applying a scalpel to themselves–and laying hearts bare. And there’s laffs! They’ve been around for a bit, too–I might as well give up trying to keep up!

There was more than one Reagan youth

In brief, L-R, each row:

Little Richard: The Georgia Peach

Don’t forget: wotta band!!! Especially Lee Allen on bulldozing tenor and Earl Palmer inventing rock and roll drumming.

Sacred Flute Music from New Guinea

The thought of “sacred flute music” gives me the fan-tods, but, lo and behold, but this stuff is not only inventive, but also a little catchy and fairly varied (for folk music).

Rosalía: Los Ángeles

A debut album of uncommon vocal intensity and focus, augmented almost solely by acoustic guitar. It isn’t quite flamenco, it’s not really pop, but it means business.

Hamid Drake & Joe McPhee: Keep Going

The highlight is the title opener, inspired and partially written by Harriet Tubman and offered to the growing number of us who are demoralized. I’d accept; it works. Elsewhere the two fond and familiar free masters make joyful racket with their drum and horn, respectively.

X-Ray Spex: Germfree Adolescents

I’ve been asked to present at a local high school’s seminar on identity, and given my choice of topics. I’m doing the whole hour on my favorite record ever written by a teenager. A teenage prophet, for teenagers 40 years later to discover.

Charlie Parker: The Complete Savoy & Dial Master Takes

Any day’s a great day to listen to Bird, but The Sound of Redemption, a neat documentary on the art and trials of the Parker-inspired saxophonist Frank Morgan, sent me in his direction. The film’s built around a Morgan tribute concert held at the man’s former home: San Quentin.

Superchunk: What A Time to Be Alive

The best rock and roll album of 2018, partly because it nails the time. I played “Reagan Youth” 5 times today–then I played the very best of Reagan Youth.

Parquet Courts: Stay Awaaake

Instrumentally, these guys know every rock and roll move, sometimes constructing a crazy-quilt out of several in one song. Lyrically, like Superchunk, they seem to be taking a necessary piss (both albums have great songs about fights or fighting). But the “dumb,” affected vocals have built a wall between they and me.

Not so brief after all.

I just listened to this seven times in a row riding in my truck. I am (perhaps oddly) one of the last people who’d argue that music lyrics are poetry, but these verses—these triplets—are close:

“If she walks by, the menfolk get in rows [it also sounds like “engrossed”!]
If she winks her eye, the bread slice turns to toast
She got a lot of what they call ‘The Most’…!

“She mesmerizes every mother’s son
If she smiles, beefsteak becomes well-done
She make Grampa feeeeel like 21!”

The ivory-tower-occupiers, Rex, might call that “demotic poetry.” Whatever.

I also love the shift from “The girl can’t help it” to “I can’t help it.” The mad vocals, Earl Palmer’s razor-sharp and rock-hard drumming, and Lee Allen’s one-man sax section are perfectly fitted to the feeling behind those words.

Man alive.

No wonder Frank Tashlin and John Waters were inspired to create scenes in their films just to use it (I bet):

(Adapted from a Facebook post made by the blogger on 1/10/19.)

Brace for Impact: Finalized Top 10 LP and Singles List, plus the Usual Listenin’ Report

As I have mentioned before, I get to vote in the recently-defunct Village Voice‘s Pazz & Jop poll. However, I’m probably more careful when I vote in a similar poll offered up by Brad Luen for the Facebook music-nut group Expert Witness. I have to live with those motherfuckers on a daily basis! And it’s a tough room! This year, there is some kidding-on-the-square about my albums list (which is different from my Pazz & Jop list; BTW, you get 100 points to distribute across your Top 10, with no more than 30 and no less than 5 for each item), but most telling is I actually submitted a singles ballot. I am an album dude, but this year I really leaned into some smashing songs. For what it’s worth, here’s my lists, and I checked them thrice:

Albums

  1. Tracey Thorn: Record (30)

  2. Rosalía: El Mal Querer (25)

  3. CupcaKe: Ephorize (10)

  4. Bettye LaVette: Things Have Changed (5)

  5. Elza Soares: Deus É Mulher (5)

  6. Noname: Room 25 (5)

  7. Pistol Annies: Interstate Gospel (5)

  8. Tierra Whack: Whack World (5)

  9. Mary Gauthier: Rifles & Rosary Beads (5)

  10. Janelle Monáe: Dirty Computer (5)

Singles

  1. Rosalía: “Malamente”*

  2. Tracey Thorn: “Sister”

  3. JLin: “The Abyss of Doubt”

  4. CupcakKe: “Duck Duck Goose”

  5. Swamp Dogg: “I’ll Pretend”

  6. John Prine: “When I Get to Heaven”

  7. Pistol Annies: “Got My Name Changed Back”

  8. Parquet Courts: “Almost Had to Start a Fight”

  9. Robyn: “Between the Lines”

  10. Rosalía: “Baghdad”

On to the new year, though it’s included little new music. I’ve been on Louisiana kick.

Travailler, C’est Trop Dur: The Lyrical Legacy of Caesar Vincent

Hadn’t heard of Vincent, whose very lyrical compositions are interpreted here by a range of Cajun all-stars (ex. Zachary Richard, David Doucet, Steve Riley). The songs are in French, but that doesn’t mean you won’t feel them, and I’d happily argue this is the best truly country music we have.

Jourdan Thibodeaux et Les Rôdailleurs; Boue, Bocane, Et Bouteilles

This youngster sings in a pleasingly grizzled baritone, plays a killer fiddle (as he must), fronts a racially integrated Cajun band (still a bit rare), and features a Savoy (of the Louisianan royal music family) on guitar dirtying things up a bit. I love it when youngsters mess with folk forms.

Sean Ardoin: Kreole Rock and Soul

Member of another Louisianan royal music family, this time of the zydeco persuasion, Ardoin does some messing around of his own, striving to live up to the title and winning three falls out of five. Winners: “Kick Rocks,” “Abracadabra” (yes, that one). Losers: “Just What I Needed” (yes, that one), and possibly the worst song I have ever heard from a Louisiana artist, “You Complete Me.”

Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band: Black Pot

Chubby plays it safe here, but if he and his band were playing these songs at the Mid-City Rock ‘n’ Bowl, you’d never sit down. The title cut’s a dance-floor killer; the closing cut is the sweetest paean to home in zydeco history; in between is competence-plus, community, and commitment.

Joe McPhee and Mats Gustafsson: Brace for Impact

It took 10 years for this meeting of two free jazz masters to come to light, and it might be one of the best of the year in spite of its vintage. They are master listeners, too, not just in a studio but across decades and an ocean: Poughkeepsian McPhee’s 79 going on 30, Mats, a Swede living in Austria, is 54. If you’d like to hear how a jazz composition can be built out of thin air, quick thinking, and imagination, you might as well start here.

Dabke–Sounds of the Syrian Houran

Dabke, an Arab music played at weddings and other celebrations, has a head-spinning number of variations. According to the Wikipedia entry on the style, there are either 2, 6, or 19 types. This motorvating compilation ranges across several of them–you might even call it a dabke Nuggets. Just trying to sell you on trying it, folks!

Rosalía: El Mal Querer

Let it be understood that the frequency with which this Catalonian-cum-Barcelonan powerhouse has appeared here simply testifies to her power. Her voice is intense, alluring, frightening, multi-faceted–and it brings out the Arabic roots of the music that’s been her life, and with which she happily experiments: flamenco. Producer El Guincho deepens the allure and broadens her appeal with savvy settings; if you want to hear her more sparely adorned, check out her debut (more on that later). She is going to be huge, and I may have to finally learn to at least hear Spanish to keep up.

Wire: Pink Flag

Even they have never recorded (again) anything quite like this 21-song, 37-minute voyage into alienation and paranoia. But again it must be said: sometimes paranoids are right. Drowning in the big swim, discerning strange things that aren’t quite right, witnessing murder, looting, and rape, 1-2 hating you, creating a field day for the Sunday papers, they take a moment to expose their hearts when their shades get broken, along with their fleeting love.

A Good Old Circus

An inaction-packed couple of days leaves me little with which to entertain you peripherally–care to hear about my new crown or my crossing my own no-NFL-TV picket line?–so let’s get to the music.

Indeed, it is, as Al Johnson memorably sang (and still sings), CARNIVAL TIME! We always celebrate that in our house, and Sunday I lazily clicked on a YouTube playlist I made last February and ended up listening to the whole thing (at the expense of investigating any albums). It’s not half-bad, and it’s not just the well-known tracks, though those can be played endlessly. Let me offer it to you again–it features great songs from the above-pictured Nathan and the Zydeco Cha-Chas, Danny White, Lil’ Buck Sinegal, and Betty Harris (clockwise from upper-left). Bon temps roulez all the way into March!

Heroes are Gang Leaders: The Amiri Baraka Sessions

The 2018 American Book Award winners for oral literature go way out, around, and inside the life and work of Baraka. It helps to have some of the poet’s oeuvre under your belt, but it isn’t necessary–you live in this world. Poetry-with-music of both a volcanic and bitterly hilarious nature.

Interjazz IV: Good Old Circus

Skeptics say you can’t tell wide-open free sessions apart, but when Willem Breuker’s in the house, even a neophyte listener’s earbrows are sure to be arched by distinct features. That title is perfect. With drummers by the name of Moholo and Oxley cracking the whip.

Sir Shina Peters: Sewele

The newest offering from Strut Records’ Original Masters subscription series is the first juju record other than King Sunny Ade’s that I’ve ever heard. Though the keyboardist can overexpress himself cornily at times, Peters’ singing and guitar are more than within shouting distance of his more famous compadre.

Stax Singles Volume 4–Rarities and The Best of the Rest

One would think that by a fourth volume (and each is a multi-disc set) the compilers would be loudly scraping barrel’s bottom. Not so. Yes, there are some mediocrities, but the many delights (instro-rockers The Cobras–guy named Cropper on guit–Rufus Thomas delivering a miraculous “Fine and Mellow,” the Nightingales’ scintillating “A Little Overcome,” Hot Sauce covering Swamp Dogg, The Dixie Nightingale’s heart-stopping “The Assassination”) beach them in their wake. I am strange, but, not planning to, I listened to the whole thing in a sitting. Also: if you didn’t know, Jim Stewart and Co. recording a lot more black music than soul.

…and still out in my truck is good ol’ Sandinista! One thing I forgot to mention the other day is how wonderful it was that the boys shared their tracks with a church choir, a little kid, and Timon Dogg (humanistic, democratic outreach in action) and moved their vocals into the mix’s midrange. It annoyed the ever-lovin’ shit out of me when I was 19, but I was a dum-dum; I totally get it now, and it makes me smile! Miss ya, Joe.

Cubano Beatitudes

I’ve been in an unshakable jazz mood for the most part the last two days, with a nice boost from fellow phono phanatic and ace Cuban cook Jimmy Trotter. I’m telling you, if you’re ever in Fulton, Missouri, between 11 and 2 in the afternoon, find The Fulton Cafe and ask Jimmy what you need–he will tell you with great accuracy and verve, then serve it to you with relish. Yesterday? A Cubano sandwich for me, ajiaco for Nicole, and fresh fruit salad, sweet espresso and poached guava with cream cheese and crackers for us both! Damn, man! And on his visits back to the table to check on us, Mr. Trotter educated us on the band Acetone, which I will be reporting back on in a few days. As I left, I was moaning to him about physical media, and instead of commiserating like most everyone else does, Jimmy enthused, “It’s all about building the perfect collection, man.” Yeah. I digress, but when I got home I jacked the Cachao comp referred to below in the changer and cranked it, and went ahead and ordered that Patato & Totico LP I’d been hesitating about for three weeks.

For your listening pleasure, here’s a playlist sampling the records below–including the entire Cachao compilation.

Also, did you know Carnival season has begun? Get yourself loosened up Louisiana style with yet another Living to Listen playlist! Shuffle these 47 tracks and you will be lit and lifted.

Cachao: Master Sessions, Volume 2

The titular master’s tumbling lope drives these tracks, but guest Paquito D’Rivera’s alto sax and clarinet often shift the mesmerizing rhythm into a classical gear. Volume 1 is terrific, too, and dig Doug Erb’s cover art for both volumes!

Leonard Cohen: Can’t Forget

A weird live document consisting of mostly soundchecks, with the late scoundrel audaciously (not to say successfully) singing the blues and covering George Jones. Like his fellow “poet” Robert Zimmerman, he gets away with some serious shit.

Creation Rebel: Vibrations 1978-1982

Take several pieces of Prince Far I’s band–like a lot of instrumental reggae and Adrian Sherwood productions these leave me a little cold.

Global Unity Orchestra: Baden-Baden ’75

Check out the number of artists listed on the cover (and, of course, their names), and you might question how much orchestral unity is possible. Skepticism is good. But these folks have great ears, and the move as a team–it’s a matter of expanding your idea of unification. A turbulent, dense, and exciting session.

The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society

Cute, wry, attractively loose, tuneful, this album is certainly one of their best, and it’s got philosophical teeth, too. I was delighted to hear my wife humming along in the next room to several songs about impermanence. I wish “Days” had closed the original release, but at least it’s on my expanded edition.

Charles Mingus: East Coasting

A foggy, restrained vibe–in contrast to the hot, direct sunlight and nearly wild atmosphere of better-known Mingus sessions–conceals a classic unit (Hadi, Richmond, Knepper in particular) playing with great soul and power. One of the bassist-composer’s most underrated records.

Phineas Newborn: Fabulous Phineas

The deft-fingered wizard from Memphis delivers his first solo session, and quicksilver would be an understatement in describing this ’50s solo session.

Charlie Parker: Early Bird–with Jay McShann and his Orchestra

I wager many have checked this Stash-label recording out strictly as Bird-watchers and have come away gobsmacked by one of the best swing bands of the war years. McShann was the man for many decades; every American house should have a record the pianist plays on. The kind of blues Albert Murray vaunted as an aid to stomping out of the briar patches of life.

Jimmy Scott: Falling in Love is Wonderful

The album cover will not delight the #MeToo movement, but inside the jacket the man who influenced as many female as male singers is at his absolute best, stretching and bending a set of heartbreaking standards. With Ray Charles playing piano and label-head.

David S. Ware: Godspelized

That title is a bit awkward, but Ware, a tenor saxophonist of gravid tone and wide beam, takes outward stylistically and upward spiritually. No gospel covers, unless Sun Ra’s “The Stargazers” counts, but a call is being placed to the beyond. Featuring Ware’s frequent partners Matthew Shipp and William Parker, with Susie Ibarra on drums–no slouches they.

Mostly Catching Up, Partly Second-Guessing—and Remembering a Question I Usually Forget

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House-cleaning: catching up on items from last year that I either slept on or hadn’t given enough time. Due diligence: checking out a hot item from 2019 (that adjective ain’t mine–yet). Inspiration and research: diving deeper into the work of a player featured in last year’s Oxford American Southern Music issue, which you should buy–it’s chock-full of goodness. Vehicular study carrel: revisiting a friend from 37 years ago I didn’t appreciate enough.

Bad Bunny: X100 PRE

I’m not sure how bad because my Spanish ain’t so hot. That trap rattle is so pervasive I’m either gonna have to practice or punt.

Etta Baker: One Dime Blues

I’d heard Baker pick on a great Music Makers CD book companion, but a wonderful article in the above-linked OA sent me scurrying to this, which not only induced me to read while listening to it, but also beguiled me with fluid-but-ear-tickling picking ala Doc Watson and David Doucet.

The Clash: Sandinista!

Still growing on me after four decades. Lord, I was green and impatient in (at?) the mercy of rockism’s means when I pouted at it in ’81! I’m not sure even London Calling is as interesting as its follow-up, and the band’s continuing drive to grow and learn (mentally and musically) misted by driver’s eyes as I beheld it once again. They had brains (always), brawn (when they needed it), and big blood-pumpers–bigger than any punks I can think of from their time to now. Now: if I can just better judge every record by how likely I’ll be to be listening to it when I’m 95….

Hop Along: Bark Your Head Off, Dog

Kid’s songs are sharp, especially “One That Suits Me.” But that voice–I’m not sure it serves the songs like it could. Half-hector, half-hyperhiccup, it defies me like Kleenex, Joni Mitchell, and Corin Tucker don’t; perhaps that’s the point. But I find myself listening through her for not only the words but the band, which holds surprises.

Joshua Redman: Still Dreaming

I have had an irrational aversion to Redman since the days of his rivalry with my man James Carter. But damned if this doesn’t sharply honor his dad’s and Ornette’s method and sound; in fact, he’s so inventively, confidently languid it’s almost a new reality. And Brian Blade? Somewhere, Higgins and Blackwell are smiling from ear to ear. Who knows: maybe this offering will lure Carter out of the recording wilds?

Henry Threadgill: Double Up, Plays Double Up Plus

I’m sorry: I love Threadgill’s alto (he doesn’t play on this at all) and respect his compositions, but that harrumphing tuba irritates the shit out of me. My New Year’s Resolution is to be more honest with myself.

Thurst: Project Isle Demotion

Though these slackers’ new EP is slacker than Cut to the Chafe, its ventings are so inventive they may catch you up short. Just after you’ve begun to muse about Mark E. Smith after two songs about titular “fuckfaces,” they assay “Reading Poetry Over Noise,” which features stiffened short hairs and post-nasal drip, then close up shop.

Miguel Zenón: Yo Soy La Tradición

The 42-year-old Puerto Rican alto saxophonist is fully integrated here with the deft Spektral [string] Quartet, playing with fire, imagination, lyricism, and discipline and achieving an admirable balance between the jazz, classical, and folk music that informs the project. At about the time it threatens to lapse into gentility, some flamenco-ized handclaps snap them and the listener out of it.